In making this public intervention, I seek to highlight the benefit of global relationships and cooperation in a world that is changing daily as a result of globalization and trans-border economics, social and even criminal activities where no one is safe, except all are safe, and to leave the dispassionate observer his opinion after deep reflection on the value, or lack of it, of the President’s foreign trips.
This way I hope every Nigerian who cares about our country will have some information about what their President is doing about the things that concern them. First I will start with context. Barely 2 decades ago (between 1994 and 1998) we would not have quarreled with the description that we were a pariah nation. We were ostracized from global events because of bad governance. We had lost the respect accorded Nations like ours were they well-led and well-run. I recall that not a few Nigerians complained that the green passport was becoming, if it had not already become, a burden. That was at the height of the dictatorial government that broke the rules of international relations. It was from there that we started to heal. Investors entered our country. Many brands that we sought after abroad started coming to set up shop in our country. The tourist footfalls in our country increased slowly but surely, but again we began to slide.
That was when Buhari declared at a meeting in Lagos during his campaign in 2015, that if elected, he would make us proud about our country again. Proud to be Nigerian again. That is the context in which I view his foreign trips and the manifesto of the All Progressives Congress (APC) on Foreign Relations which promised to: Make the Nigerian national interest the overriding factor in its foreign policy and international relations.
I was witness to PMB’s persuasion to Iran to come to the market slowly instead of pushing out large volumes, which will raise supply and crash prices, even though Iran also needed the cash. You can’t do that type of diplomacy by letter or by phone, in my view, not when the major players were all there in person.
Work to reform global governance in multilateral institutions and agencies. Work to strengthen the African Union to become a more effective organization on global affairs. Engage the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) on the basis of equality. Play a leadership role to develop a MINT (Mexico, India, Nigeria, and Turkey) as a counterforce to BRICS. I will limit my takeaways to 4 (Four) trips that I attended with the President namely: the G7 Summit in Germany, the Oil and Gas Summit in Iran, the Renewable Energy Conference in Abu Dhabi and the State visit and Business Forum in China; and 2 (Two) trips that I did not attend, but whose deliberations I followed, namely: Paris for the COP 21 and USA for the Nuclear Energy Summit. G7 in Germany This is a club of eight of the most industrialized, economic and technologically advanced nations.
For the benefit of those who do not follow international politics it was originally the G8 comprising the USA, Britain, Germany, France, Canada, Japan, Italy, and Russia, who were later suspended and had sanctions imposed on them to make it G7 as a result. It was formed in 1975 as a club of 6 (Six) before Canada and Russia were admitted. They look after each other, and the rest of the world to put it simply. They have gone to war together if you remember Iraq and Libya in recent memory and they are all largely collaborating to fight terror. (Most recently the FBI was rendering assistance to Belgium in the aftermath of the terror attacks in that Country). Why G7 one might then ask? Answer: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as host, invited PMB on his inauguration to be their guest along with some three or four other African countries.
Their agenda was global security, global economy and global health in the aftermath of Ebola, which was still raging in some African countries. Apart from the personal aides of the President, Governor Shettima of Borno, General Dambazau and myself were the only ones who accompanied PMB. I recall that upon our arrival in Germany they expressed surprise that our delegation was small and asked if others were still coming. In the pre-departure briefing, in addition to highlighting how the security and economic agenda of the G7 coincided with 2 (Two) of his campaign promises, security, (corruption) economy, PMB stated the reasons 3 of us were invited. Governor Shettima was in the front line of terrorists and criminal activities in the north east; General Abdulrahman Dambazau, was a former Chief of Army Staff, and also a faculty associate of Harvard University Weatherhead Center for International Affairs; I had run the single biggest economy of a state within Nigeria for eight years and was in the frontline of Ebola. Without ministers, one week after taking office, he felt we were the ones best suited to assist, if he needed it, on the issues of security, economy and health on the G7 agenda.
In the event, he did not need us. He held his ground admirably. He was the first person called upon to speak at a Summit in which Nigeria was not a member. I was proud to be a Nigerian. At global summits we usually got to speak when others had spoken and the hall has emptied. President Obama was the first G7 member to speak after PMB and he said that Nigeria has elected a President that brings a reputation of scrupulous integrity to the table. I was proud to be a Nigerian.
The opening session was robust and welcoming, we saw some of the world’s most powerful men and women take off their jackets, call each other by their first names in a club-like setting while addressing the world’s most serious problems. Problems that affect you and I daily. I was proud that my President was in a room where decisions concerning my planet were being deliberated upon. Prime Minister Cameron, Chancellor Merkel and others also spoke in similar vein about our President’s reputation and our nation’s strategic position in Africa and the world. They pledged support for Nigeria on Terror and the Economy. Importantly, I learned that their scientists were worried about increasing resistance of strains of infections to antibiotics; and that they were committing enormous resources into finding out why and what to do.
They highlighted the difficulty of time and resources that it will take to develop new antibiotics and the risk to global health. If we all appreciate how vulnerable we can be without effective antibiotics, especially our children, and if we remember how low life expectancy was and how poor global health was before the discovery of Penicillin after the World War, we will appreciate the seriousness of the platform to which Nigeria was invited. I was proud that our President was there. If the seven most powerful nations stand with you, who can stand against you? I need not say more except that I can attest that PMB has been following up on these matters, and the progress on security is visible, while results on the economic front will manifest soon enough. Iran Oil and Gas Summit For those who are not aware, one of the reasons why oil prices went up, and from which we benefited in the past, was that Iran, the world’s 7th largest producer of oil, was facing global sanctions from which she was due to emerge in 2016.
Because Iran was soon to be selling oil, the likelihood of a further crash of oil prices that had drastically fallen was a threat to Nigeria’s economy if oil prices crashed further. (Our 2016 budget proposals had just been formulated on a $38 per barrel assumption) I was witness to PMB’s persuasion to Iran to come to the market slowly instead of pushing out large volumes, which will raise supply and crash prices, even though Iran also needed the cash. You can’t do that type of diplomacy by letter or by phone, in my view, not when the major players were all there in person. I witnessed the meeting with the Venezuelan prime minister, who was leading the South American producers to sell more and get cash even if the prices were lower.
PMB’s logic was different. Hold your volumes, steady the price, and don’t let us hurt one another. Recorders of history will recall that the Venezuelan government suffered a major political defeat in Parliament, while PMB’s logic has at least steadied oil prices. It might interest you to know that all European nations sent their oil ministers, except Russia, where Vladimir Putin came in person, because having been suspended from the G8 and facing sanctions, this was the meeting where his country’s interests were best served. For the record, Russia pledged a $5 Billion state support to Iran, and if the purpose of this is lost on anyone, I interpret it to mean, “Take cash, don’t pump out your oil. It will hurt me.” This is the reality of international politics.
Finally on Iran, PMB told us, how when he flew to Iran in his days as Petroleum Minister, he noticed how much gas they were flaring and now he returned as President, all the flares were gone. We found out that all the gas had been harvested and piped to every home for heating, cooking etc. His mandate: “If they can do it, we must do it.” I am proud to be led by a President who sees good things outside and seeks to bring them to his people. Abu Dhabi Renewable Energy: This is reputed to be the richest of the Emirates in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Apart from seeking cooperation to recover Nigeria’s stolen wealth stored in the UAE [His anti-corruption commitment pursued in person], PMB addressed a renewable energy summit where we learned about initiatives to bring solar power price down to 5 (Five) US cents per kilowatt hour, (approximately N10) as against the price of 17 (seventeen) US cents (N34) per KW/h tariff in Nigeria fixed at privatization by the last Government.
PMB’s mandate was for us to explore collaboration for the manufacture of solar panels in Nigeria to bring down the price and deploy it to the sunlit areas of Nigeria, especially the North that is most prolific for irradiation. We are currently working on the Energy Mix for Nigeria, which is the implementation process of the energy policy that will take us there. Hopefully we will soon be signing the first set of solar deployment agreements for Nigeria. In this way, more solar and hydro will be used in the North, more coal and hydro in the Middle Belt, and more gas in the South; so that we take power generation closest to the most prolific source of fuel to bring down the cost and make it more affordable. On the trip to China (which I will comment on) we met a few Chinese solar manufacturers (who recognized us from Abu Dhabi) who want to set up business of manufacturing solar panels in Nigeria.
China Investment Forum and State Visit This is the visit that provoked this write up, because I had bottled what I knew. But it was time, I believe, to share some of it. China is the second largest economy in the world with a per capita income of $8,000 which they are planning to raise to $12,000 by 2020. By her own assessment, according to President Xi Jinping, they are still a developing nation seeking to achieve what he described as “initial prosperity” by 2020. If you look at the back of your phone, your TV, your watch, your I-Pad, your Mobile Charger, many other accessories that you use, you are likely to find these three words “Made in China” printed somewhere.
• To be continued
• Fashola, SAN is the Minister of Works, Housing and Power